"Information overload" is a simple phrase for a complex phenomenon: the overwhelming sense that modern media technologies churn out more words and images than our culture can usefully absorb. David Shenk, a technology critic with a knack for unraveling the complex, has an even simpler name for it--"data smog." That was the title of his first book, a smart, useful critique of the march of info-tech "progress" that has brought us such marvels as spam, junk mail, and 57 channels with nothing much on.
His second book, The End of Patience: Cautionary Notes on the Information Revolution, continues and expands Shenk's analysis, collecting articles and commentary he wrote for National Public Radio, The New Republic, FEED, Wired, and other high-minded venues over the last three years. Shenk's targets here vary widely: the corporatization of scientific research, the dizzying ethical choices surrounding biotechnology, and the scourge of Web sites with too many bells and whistles all get due consideration. But his central message remains the same throughout. Our technologies, he warns, are shaping us into a nation of info-hungry, data-dizzy "button smackers," risking the quality of our life and culture for the doubtful thrill of instant knowledge.
Shenk's warning is a gentle one, however, tempered by an affectionate familiarity with the media he critiques. And though this book could have used a little more winnowing (in particular, the transcribed conversations with assorted media-critic pals of Shenk's come off as little more than chummy, self-indulgent filler), in general his writing has a sure, light touch that glides past the bombast of classic technopunditry. Happily, Shenk follows his own prescriptions, cutting through the information haze rather than adding to it. --Julian Dibbell
From Publishers Weekly
Shenk, author of the celebrated Data Smog, articulates further uneasiness with the information age in this collection of provocative punditry originally written for National Public Radio and publications ranging the information superhighway from Wired to Feed. There is, to be sure, much in the new hyper-faster-go-go-go dial-up culture to wear down one's patience. Shenk is fed up with Microsoft, the recent consolidation of corporation and academy, carbon-copy Howard Sterns and the paparazzi in all of us. But, even as he asserts the benefits of patience and the ability to pay sustained attention, Shenk is no Luddite ready to shack up in the mountains with his Smith-Corona far from his modem. He actually likes the digital ageAso long as it is kept in perspective: "As the Web becomes integrated into the fabric of our livesAmostly to our great benefitAwe should employ hyperlinking as a useful tool, but be careful not to let it govern the way we think." Though, as a collection of previously published pieces, the book lacks the coherence of Data Smog, Shenk's sentences are witty, often savagely funny. These essays, many of which are shorter than three pages, are entertaining, even if, in their brevity, they do not demand the patience that Shenk argues is such a virtue. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.